A year later he was selected with 13 others for a five-year course in trade union organisation in the former Soviet Union. However, after only two years, the cerebral Jose Abdulai completed the programme and returned to Bissau to work for the company Silo Diyata. He later returned to Russia for postgraduate studies and upon return worked for the company’s office in the country’s second capital of Bafata. In 1984, a friend of Mane’s, Lt Col Malang Sane, advised him to leave the country immediately following a perceived threat to his life. The then Justice minister, Paulo Correa helped him with papers to leave surreptitiously. Shortly afterward Minister Correa was killed and Lt Col Sane was incarcerated, only to come out after ten years. Mane went to Senegal and in 1989, he came to The Gambia. I began this interview with him by asking him how life in exile in The Gambia started for him.
Jose Abdulai Mane: The people of Guinea Bissau can never pay The Gambia enough. When I came, I did many jobs as a painter and photographer. Then in 1998 I granted an interview to the newspapers and radio stations appealing to the international community to stop the Senegalese president, Abdou Diouf, from sending 2,000 soldiers to intervene in Guinea Bissau. I likened such a move to putting petrol on fire.
But first, what occasioned the Senegalese military intervention?
The cause of the problem is something that people hardly talk about. It is shrouded in secrecy. Some French citizens were killed by the Casamance rebels and the French government paid money to [then president] Nino Vieira to collect the remains of these people for repatriation to France. Nino organised soldiers to do this and when the bones were taken to France they were found not to be those of the deceased French citizens. Guinea Bissau has intellectuals and the members of parliament launched an enquiry into who was behind the saga. They also tried to find out who was supplying guns to the rebels and they discovered it was Nino Vieira. Nino denied the conclusions of the enquiry and said that a general in the army, Ansumane Mane, was the one responsible for this and announced his immediate dismissal. But this was just a strategy to get rid of Ansumane. It was not true in any way. Ansumane knew they wanted to kill him because he worked with Nino before. Since Ansumane returned from Conakry in 1975, he had seen his comrades torturing and killing people. For example, if your wife is nice, the soldiers will arrest her and do with her whatever they want and put you in jail. PAIGC [the ruling liberation party] is supposed to be for all the people but it was only for Nino Vieira and his cronies who engaged in unbridled corruption. Everybody was fed up in Guinea Bissau so Ansumane got up to fight for the people.
But wasn’t Nino’s a democratically elected government?
No…No. He [Ansumane] was just trying to save his own life. He had to fight otherwise he would be killed. When the journalists asked him whether he wanted to become president he replied in the negative. He was not educated. Ansumane could not even speak broken Creolu properly. Many generals were not educated and that was why they were engaged in corruption and kidnapping people. From 1980 up till now that has been the case. Maybe things will change after this election.
Fast forward the events in your country and your cousin, Ansumane Mane, was killed in brutal fashion. Do you know the circumstances surrounding his death?
Ansumane was a brave man. He was a ‘Nyancho’ [Kaabu warrior] hero who would not be killed like a dog in a state of cowardice. He wanted to be killed.
Why would anybody want to be killed?
Ansumane was not having an adviser. People who wanted money from him would come and tell him anything. Ansumane did not want to become resident but he wanted to put up a candidate in the person of the late Malang Bacai Sanha. When Malang Bacai Sanha was prime minister and preparing as a presidential candidate, the Mandinkas in Gaabu Bafata started threatening Fula tribesmen and taking their cattle with the accompanying prediction of another Kaabu war. I am a Mandinka myself but Mandinkas are full of problems. This scared the Fulas and they decided to join the Balanta tribe in support of Kumba Yala. That is why Kumba Yala had 72 percent against 28 percent for his rival. I was the secretary general of Guinea Bissau Independent Electoral Commission and I did predict a win for Kumba Yala in the second round but my forecast was dismissed at the time. That is the mistake of the Mandinkas because if the Fulas and other tribes contest against them they should win because of their numbers and influence. More to the point, one of the first things Kumba Yala did after his victory was to announce his desire to appoint Ansumane Mane as one of his advisers but Ansumane did not give a good answer. Ansumane should not have rebuffed him that way even if he did not want to work with him. He could even have lobbied for appointment as ambassador to The Gambia. Kumba Yala was afraid of Ansumane but Ansumane was playing the game very badly. When Ansumane and Kumba Yala passed with their motorcade in the streets people always rushed in show of support and admiration for Mane. You cannot have two presidents in one country. Then one of them would just make a plan as always happens in Africa to eliminate the other. Kumba Yala woke up one morning and promoted 23 soldiers to the rank of general. That was a huge number for a country of less than 2 million people. Ever the Nyancho, Ansumane called all the generals and then removed their epaulettes from their uniforms. Some stood up and said ‘Ansumane, we fought together with you in the jungle and now you are jealous because we are promoted to general”. They then hatched a plot to kill him.
And exactly how was he killed?
He was beaten with sticks because neither knife nor bullet could penetrate his body due to fortification with magic charms. They beat him. He knew people were coming to kill him and he refused to flee in the belief that his time had come. Some people have the belief that if somebody kills you, they carry the burden of your sins. Ansumana was a Muslim and believed this.
After 40 years of independence marred by coups and wars Guinea Bissau is now a ‘failed narco-state’ where no president had ever completed a term in office. How do you feel about this?
When the fighters came from the jungle on 20 January 1973, Amilcar Cabral was killed. Why was he killed? His own companions killed him because he had always told them that he sent many people to Russia and Cuba for education who will be in charge of the country after independence. He told them in a meeting that although they fought in the liberation struggles they will not have a place in government; only the educated people and those with experience having worked with the Portuguese. Some people blame the Portuguese for the death of Amilcar Cabral. But that is not true. The man who shot him was Inocencio Kany from the Manjago tribe. He appealed to them before he was killed for his life to be spared because he was cooking something but they refused. Amilcar Cabral was a great man. When a hero and jungle fighter turns into a criminal and kidnapper you have a problem. Guinea Bissau has become the transit country for drugs because of ignorance. You have people in power who cannot even speak the national language properly. If you are an intellectual there, you have to keep quiet. People go for ten months without salary. During the colonial rule if you got sick you got medicine and workers get paid 13 times a year, but things deteriorated after independence. When you were sick and had to go for overseas treatment the director of the hospital just had to write to the minister and you will be flown to Portugal for treatment. That is the Portuguese style of ruling.
Then what use so-called independence for you now when you had it so good under the Portuguese
Amilcar Cabral knew we had a lot of resources that could be used to support the country’s people. [During the colonial period] Amilcar Cabral was having a good post in the country but he was not satisfied with the way things were. Some people striking for better wages were shot by the Portuguese and they used to beat people.
Now, what do you make of the former president, Kumba Yala who died recently?
He was not a serious leader. He was making a comedy of leadership. A leader must first and foremost have the personality and the character. He came to The Gambia and went to Tanji. Then I was working as a journalist with Radio 1 FM run by George Christensen. There was a man in the delegation smoking who was reminded that he was in a presidential convoy. But when Kumba Yala heard this he said he would be the first to smoke it. He returned to Guinea Bissau and found people striking. When he was told they were striking for unpaid salaries, he told them, “Me too, I have not been paid, I will join you”. Kumba Yala would put on that red beret of his which is a Balanta culture. This was inappropriate because he was not president only for Balantas, but for the whole of Guinea Bissau. Maybe he was a philosopher and intellectual like me and followed what he believed in.
But he sobered up in the end and even converted to Islam?
That was just for political reasons. He wanted to make a comeback but realised there was viral rumour that Kumba Yala will encourage alcohol consumption and desecration of mosques when he regained power. Yes, he went to Bafata and converted to Islam by adopting the name Muhammed Yala. He was just using Islam to further his political interests.
Finally, what do you see as solution to get Guinea Bissau from the vicious cycle of war and instability?
The best way is to remove the people who don’t want civilian rule through the polls. We did it last time when Carlos Domingo Junior beat 24 people in the elections. But some people woke up and removed him citing that Guinea Bissau people did not like him. How did they know? What should be done is to retire the soldiers and generals who fought in the liberation war. The educated ones can be sent into diplomatic service. I appeal to the government of The Gambia to help by way of financial support to retire these people. Any of the generals who don’t want to retire is the proper enemy of Guinea Bissau people. We want to go forward not backward. No more war. The soldiers are removing civilian governments because they do not respect anybody. I want The Gambia to help us start our own tourism industry because Guinea Bissau has beautiful white sandy beaches. I have worked with Malleh Sallah at Africa Adventure Tours who pays his employees well and I think he is somebody who can invest in the tourism industry in Guinea Bissau. I would also want the private sector to invest in the health sector because my people are suffering. Private Chinese clinics are asking for CFA 10,000, the equivalent of D820 for just malaria test.]]>